Pope angers Turkey by calling Armenian genocide a genocide.

Pope Angers Turkey by Calling Armenian Genocide a Genocide

Pope Angers Turkey by Calling Armenian Genocide a Genocide

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April 12 2015 10:32 AM

Pope Angers Turkey by Calling Armenian Genocide a Genocide

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Aram I (R), head of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia speaks with Pope Francis on April 12, 2015 at St Peter's basilica in the Vatican.

Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images

He said the G word. And Turkey is none too happy. Pope Francis sparked a diplomatic row on Sunday when, as had been widely expected, he called the mass killing of Armenians in World War I, “the first genocide of the 20th century.” The pontiff went even further though, and called on the international community to stop beating around the bush when talking about the slaughter of Armenians a century ago and call it a genocide once and for all. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry  summoned the Vatican ambassador in Ankara in protest, reports BBC News. Although Turkey recognizes many Christian Armenians died during battles with Ottoman soldiers that began in 1915, it has long denied the deaths amounted to hundreds of thousands nor that it was a genocide.

Sunday marked the first time the pope had publicly uttered the word “genocide” to describe the massacre although he had also used the word during a private meeting with an Armenian delegation in 2013. The pontiff’s views were hardly a mystery though seeing as though he had already publicly called the killings a genocide when he was still Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires. The pope knew his words were going to be closely monitored and he uttered “genocide” less than 100 words into his Mass in the Armenian Catholic rite in St. Peter’s Basilica:

Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference, by the complicit silence of Cain, who cries out: “What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies.  The first, which is widely considered “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks.  Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered.  The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism.

By calling it “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” Francis was quoting a declaration signed in 2001 by Pope John Paul II and Kerekin II, the leader of the Armenian church. But he later went on to describe the killings a “senseless slaughter” and made it clear that in his mind no good can come from ignoring the truth: “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!” And in a subsequent message he said all heads of state and international organizations must acknowledge the truth “without ceding to ambiguity or compromise,” reports the Associated Press.

Turkey told the Vatican’s ambassador it was “deeply sorry and disappointed” at the remarks, which it said went against Pope Francis’ message of peace when he visited the country in November. The pope’s comments will create a “problem of trust,” an official said, according to Today’s Zaman.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.